Are Steinways really the best pianos?

Stephen N. Reed


Asking what piano is the best is like asking someone who the best writer or painter is; the answer depends on the person asked. If you ask 100 automobile enthusiasts what the best automobile is, you will receive a variety of answers and for many different reasons.

Certain facts and statistics can work to establish a credible claim of being the best.  This article will provide such facts and statistics to determine which brand is the best piano.

2018 Steinway Model B
Steinway’s Model B grand.  So what does “best” mean?  To some, best could mean most durable, best looking, or best value.  But for an instrument like the piano, ultimately its musical quality is the main consideration.

Judging the best of any category or product is often associated with being the most expensive. But many brands competing for top recognition are not the most expensive piano.

So what does “best” mean?  To some, best could mean most durable, best looking, or best value.  But for an instrument like the piano, ultimately its musical quality is the main consideration.

M. Steinert & Sons has studied the musical quality of each generation of top-of-the-line pianos, including each new Steinway model, since 1869, before Steinway had earned its current reputation. We know new and used Steinways.

In addition, we are also intimately familiar with other top brands, which we have sold as used models for many years.  Indeed, some of our piano consultants have worked for other brands before coming to work for us.  So we appreciate the value in other brands.

We’re an Authorized Steinway Dealer and, as such, you would be within your rights to wonder if we’re bringing some bias into an article like this.  Our goal is not to bring a biased view but to help you understand how the general public evaluates Steinway pianos so you can make that decision for yourself.

What do the world’s concert pianists say?

Not only do pianos create art, but they are also a work of art themselves.

Steinway's Black Diamond grand piano
A handcrafted Black Diamond Steinway Special Edition grand. A few piano companies continue to use a handcrafted approach to piano building, generally viewed as superior to a manufactured process.

The question of which piano is the best cannot be answered exclusively by objective technical or scientific criteria.  Many piano companies use excellent materials, and a few continue to use a handcrafted approach to piano building, generally viewed as superior to a manufactured process.

Three brands that still employ the handcrafted method of piano building include Steinway, Bosendorfer, and Yamaha but just for the Japanese company’s CF concert piano series.

Another way to answer the “best piano” question is to weigh the subjective opinions of people qualified enough to offer opinions that carry additional weight.  In the piano industry, this would mean examining the opinions held by the best pianists about their piano preferences.

The best pianists are professional concert pianists who have managed to build successful performing careers. They are the rare few who have risen to the top and whose playing amazes, awes, and inspires, resulting in recording contracts with the world’s leading labels.

Obviously, if you know of one or more particular musical artists whose work you admire, their endorsement of a given piano brand will weigh more heavily.

Major piano brands each have their supporters.  Here is a sampling of those endorsements for three piano brands that are used by top concert pianists.  You can also click on the brand name to take you to each brand’s Artists’ page online to peruse different artists’ endorsements.

Yamaha:

“Yamaha has always been my piano of choice and it is a status I am very proud of. Performing on a CFX is always a memorable experience, only with the CFX do I find a complete affinity between myself and the instrument.”

–Nicholas McCarthy, Concert Pianist and Yamaha Artist

Bosendorfer:

“For me, Bösendorfer best represents the Central European music tradition: history, tradition and a connection to the past.”

–Sir Andras Schiff, Concert Pianist and Bosendorfer Artist

Steinway:

“This instrument has not only the beauty, but also the sound, the emotions, the whole feeling. No matter how you play, you always have these wonderful qualities.”

–Lang Lang, Concert Pianist and Steinway Artist

Again, every competitive piano brand like these will have their supporters.  Some will have more endorsements than others, but each brand hopes that if they have one of your favorite performers endorsing their pianos, you’ll give them special notice.

A recent study of symphony orchestras

So how else might one grade one of these top piano brands as the best?

Steinway fallboard
A recent study shows that over 97 percent of piano soloists performing with orchestras played on Steinway pianos.

Concert pianists perform all around the world with symphony orchestras. Steinway & Sons released a symphony survey that shows over 97 percent of piano soloists performing with orchestras during the 2018-2019 season played on Steinway pianos.

According to Steinway & Sons, this survey includes data from 794 performances with 100 orchestras around the world.

Which piano do most conservatories prefer?

Another way to evaluate which of these piano brands ranks first is to inquire into the piano inventory of leading music conservatories worldwide.

These music schools train professional pianists all around the world and mostly use Steinway pianos.

Conservatories training with Steinway pianos includes the Top 3 in the U.S.–Julliard School, Curtis, and Oberlin–as well as Yale and New England Conservatory.  A complete list of All-Steinway Schools can be found here.

Is a Steinway-family piano for you?

Professional musicians would not risk their performing careers on pianos that did not do the best possible justice to their art. They count on the reliability and musicality that Steinway pianos provide during their most intense moments of performance.

Boston 178-A grand piano
A Boston 178-A grand piano. For much of the Steinway design but for less cost, many turn to the Boston and Essex lines, made by Steinway.

As noted in a prior article, Yamaha’s brighter sound scores points with some jazz and contemporary pianists, sharing that market with Steinway and others.

But among classical concert pianists, symphony orchestras, and music conservatories, Steinway is the overwhelming choice.

That being said, plenty of people choose other pianos, for all sorts of reasons.

For example, some jazz and contemporary pianists prefer the brighter tone of a Yamaha over the well-rounded tone of Steinway.  While some jazz and contemporary artists prefer Steinway, taking different pianists’ opinions into account can be informative when evaluating which piano is best for you.

Additionally, you may discover that you prefer Steinway but simply don’t have the budget for it right now.   If you want to get as much of the Steinway tone and touch as possible in a more affordable piano, Steinway’s manufactured production lines, Boston and Essex, may be for you.

 Try out a variety of piano brands for yourself

You wouldn’t buy a luxury car like a Maserati or Porsche without taking it out for a test ride.  Reading about any expensive item helps prepare you for your encounter with it.  But spending real time with it is essential to a satisfactory purchase.

The next step for anyone trying to ascertain whether Steinway is the best piano for you is to play a variety of models, including Steinway and other top brands like Bosendorfer and Yamaha.  Only by comparing and contrasting such brands can you discern which piano make and model is best for you.

Naturally, we hope you’ll look into our Steinway lines of pianos at M. Steinert & Sons.  Come into one of our two showrooms in Boston and Newton to explore the Steinway family of pianos–Steinway, Boston, and Essex–for yourself.

In the meantime, learn more about why a handcrafted piano is more expensive in the following article:

Why are Steinway pianos so expensive?

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